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Smells like a new generation of players

The music's latest youth movement is rooted far more in the present than in the past.

March 02, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

What's happening on the youthful cutting edge of jazz these days? Quite a bit, actually. Nothing that is yet comparable to the era-changing developments of the bebop years, but a persistent set of signals that an imaginative new generation is moving well beyond the retro orientation of the '90s. Here's a quick-take look at the wide variety in some current arrivals:

The Bad Plus

"These Are the Vistas" (Columbia)

*** 1/2

Arriving on a wave of favorable publicity, debuting on a major label, the Bad Plus trio -- pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King -- has a lot of hype to live up to. On the upside, they play with an intensity, volume and attitude that should heighten their appeal to younger audiences; and the inclusion of a few pop songs -- Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Aphex Twin's "Flim" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass" -- won't hurt either.

Whether or not they've uncovered a new approach to the jazz piano trio (in which drumming is prominent and dynamic levels are high) remains to be seen. Either way, however, there's a lot to like about the group's blend of quirky musical adventurousness and (despite the pop hype) subtle connections with their jazz roots.

Scott Amendola Band

"Cry" (Cryptogramophone)

*** 1/2

Amendola was the drummer with the influential mid-'90s band T.J. Kirk and with Charlie Hunter's quartet of the late '90s. In "Cry," he has fashioned a collection of pieces moving easily from hard-driving free-jazz sounds (featuring the stirring saxophone work of Eric Crystal) and noise-component improvising to quiet lyricism ("Rosa") and high-impact anthems to peace ("His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and, especially, Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," sung passionately by Carla Bozulich). The results are consistently engaging, both emotionally and intellectually, the product of a fertile and inventive musical imagination. (Amendola's band performs music from the CD tonight at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica.)

Charlie Hunter Quintet

"Right Now Move" (Ropeadope Music)


After leading his own groups for a decade, Hunter is not exactly a new arrival. But both his playing and the bands he has led have been in the vanguard of the new wave players of the '90s. His current quintet includes the unusual front line of saxophonist-bass clarinetist John Ellis, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and harmonica player Gregoire Maret, supported by drummer Derek Phillips and his own eight-string guitar work. In typical Hunter fashion, the music on "Right Now Move" (in stores March 25) spreads in every direction, from funk and soul to Afro-Cuban, rock and jazz, all of it assembled in musically seamless fashion. And the tonal textures of trombone, tenor saxophone and harmonica make for one of the more colorful sounds of recent memory.

Bone Structure

"Bone Structure" (Cryptogramophone)


Organized in late 1997, Bone Structure consists of guitarist G.E. Stinson (who founded the group Shadowfax), percussionist-pianist Gregg Bendian (formerly with Cecil Taylor), violinist Jeff Gauthier and bassist Steuart Liebig. Given the experience and skills that each player brings to the mix, it's not surprising that the music is often penetratingly atmospheric. The performances, spontaneous but nonetheless well-crafted, take the receptive listener through strange, often mesmerizing, musical landscapes. Is it jazz? Not in the traditional sense. But it could only have been created by players with jazz sensibilities -- players who understand that jazz is at its best when it is constantly open to new definitions.


"Soulive" (Blue Note)

** 1/2

Like the Charlie Hunter band, Soulive -- keyboardist Neal Evans, guitarist Eric Krasno and drummer Alan Evans -- has strong links to the soul jazz of the '50s and '60s. But they have not yet found the musical sense of self that is present in Hunter's music. Soulive's album, due out the first week in April, contains more than a few moments recalling the jazz organ exploits of Jimmy Smith, but without Smith's irresistible sense of swing. The trio's obvious desire to generate dance floor grooves is largely successful even though, ironically, much of its best playing takes place when the grooves are minimized in favor of straight-ahead rhythmic drive.


"Syntaxis" (Circumvention Music)

** 1/2

Think Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and toss in a few other aleatoric, '60s-style improvisers and you'll have a good idea of what to expect from this San Diego-based quartet. Tenor saxophonist-flutist Jason Robinson and trombonist Michael Dessen take most of the wildly spontaneous solos, with bassist Scott Walton and drummer Nathan Hubbard providing a kaleidoscopic carpet of rhythmic sounds and noises. Often fascinating, sometimes wearying.

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